Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond

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Gerald FitzGerald
Born Gearóid Mac Géarailt
Died 11 November 1583(1583-11-11)
Bóthar an Iarla, Glenagenty
Cause of death killed for ransom
Title Earl of Desmond
Tenure 1558–1582
Nationality Hiberno-Norman
Predecessor James FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond
Successor Forfeit 1582
Spouse(s) Joan Fitzgerald
Eleanor Butler
Issue James FitzGerald
(another son, not named in article)
Joan FitzGerald
Catherine FitzGerald
Ellice FitzGerald
Ellen FitzGerald
Ireland, showing the Earldom of Desmond in the southwest

Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond (c. 1533 – 11 November 1583) was an Irish nobleman and leader of the Desmond Rebellions of 1579.


He was the son of James FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, by his second wife Móre O'Carroll. His father had agreed in January 1541, as one of the terms of his submission to Henry VIII of England, to send young Gerald to be educated in England. At the accession of Edward VI proposals to this effect were renewed; Gerald was to be the companion of the young king.

These projects were not carried out. Claims were made on the Desmond estate by the Butlers, the hereditary enemies of the Geraldines. James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde had married Lady Joan Fitzgerald, daughter and heiress-general of James FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Desmond. On Ormonde's death she proposed to marry Gerald FitzGerald, and eventually did so after the death of her second husband, Sir Francis Bryan. The effect of this marriage was a temporary cessation of hostility between the Desmonds and her son, Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde.


Gerald succeeded to the earldom in 1558; he was knighted by the lord deputy Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, and offered homage at Waterford. He soon established close relations with his namesake Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare (1525–1585), and with Shane O'Neill. In spite of an award made by Sussex in August 1560 regulating the matters in dispute between Ormond and the Fitzgeralds, outlaws from each side continued to plunder the other. For some time, Desmond resisted a summons to appear at Elizabeth's court with the plea that he was at war with his uncle Maurice. When he did appear in London in May 1562, his (according to the English) insolent conduct before the privy council resulted in a short imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Desmond was detained in England until 1564, and soon after his return his wife died. He now raided Thomond, and in Waterford he sought to enforce his feudal rights on Sir Maurice Fitzgerald of Decies, who invoked the help of Thomas Butler, the Earl of Ormonde. This slid into war, which came to an end at the Battle of Affane on the Blackwater river. Here Ormonde's brother, Sir Edmund Butler of Cloughgrenan, hit Desmond in the right hip with a pistol-shot, cracking his thigh-bone and throwing him from his horse. About 300 Geraldines were killed, with many drowning as they were intercepted by armed boats in crossing the river.

As the badly wounded captive Desmond was being carried shoulder-high from the field, an Ormonde commander rode up and jubilantly inquired, "Where is now the great Lord Desmond?" Desmond retorted,

Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?

Ormonde took the wounded Desmond in captivity to Clonmel and then to Waterford city, where Lord Justice Nicholas Arnold took custody of him after a legal wrangle with Ormonde.

Ormond and Desmond were bound over in London to keep the peace, being allowed to return to Ireland early in 1566, where a royal commission was appointed to settle the matters in dispute between them. Desmond and his brother Sir John of Desmond were sent over to England, where they surrendered their lands to the queen after imprisonment in the Tower. In the meanwhile Desmond's cousin, James FitzMaurice FitzGerald, caused himself to be acclaimed captain of Desmond in defiance of Henry Sidney, and in the evident expectation of usurping the earldom. He sought to give the movement an ultra-Catholic character, with the idea of gaining foreign assistance, and allied himself with John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricarde, with Connor O'Brien, 3rd Earl of Thomond, and even secured Ormonde's brother, Sir Edmund Butler, whom Sidney had offended. Edward Butler also joined the rebellion, but the appearance of Sidney and Ormonde in the south-west was rapidly followed by the submission of the Butlers. Most of the Geraldines were subjugated by Humphrey Gilbert, but Fitzmaurice remained in arms, and in 1571 Sir John Perrot undertook to reduce him. Perrot hunted him down, and at last on 23 February 1573 he made formal submission at Kilmallock, lying prostrate on the floor of the church by way of proving his sincerity.

Return to Ireland

Desmond was allowed to return to Ireland in 1573, despite the protestation of Elizabeth's counsellors. He promised not to exercise palatinate jurisdiction in Kerry until his rights to it were proven. He was detained for six months in Dublin, but in November slipped away. Edward FitzGerald, brother of the Earl of Kildare, and lieutenant of the queen's pensioners in London, was sent to remonstrate with Desmond, but accomplished nothing.

Desmond asserted that none but Brehon law should be observed between Geraldines. Fitzmaurice seized Captain George Bourchier (father of Henry), one of Elizabeth's officers in the west. Essex met the Earl near Waterford in July, and Bourchier was surrendered, but Desmond refused the other demands made in the Queen's name. A document offering £500 for his head, and £1,000 to any one who would take him alive, was drawn up but was vetoed by two members of the council.

On 18 July 1574 the Geraldine chiefs signed a 'Combination' promising to support the Earl unconditionally; shortly afterwards Ormonde and the lord deputy, William Fitzwilliam, marched on Munster, and put Desmond's garrison at Derrinlaur Castle to the sword. Desmond submitted at Cork on 2 September, handing over his estates to trustees: Sir Henry Sidney visited Munster in 1575, and affairs seemed to promise an early restoration of order. But Fitzmaurice had fled to Brittany in company with other leading Geraldines, John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, seneschal of Imokilly, who had held Ballymartyr against Sidney in 1567, and Edmund Fitzgibbon, the son of the White Knight who had been attainted in 1571. He intrigued at the French and Spanish courts for a foreign invasion of Ireland, and at Rome met the adventurer Thomas Stucley, with whom he projected an expedition which was to make a nephew of Pope Gregory XIII king of Ireland. In 1579 the adventurer landed at Smerwick bay (Cuan Ard na Caithne), where he was joined later by some Spanish soldiers at the Dún an Óir. His ships were captured on 29 July 1579 and he himself was slain in a skirmish while on his way to Tipperary.

Nicholas Sanders, the papal legate who had accompanied Fitzmaurice, sought to draw Desmond into rebellion. On 1 November 1579 Sir William Pelham proclaimed Desmond a traitor. The sack of Youghal and Kinsale by the Geraldines was speedily followed by attacks by Ormonde and Pelham acting in concert with Admiral William Winter.

In June 1581 Desmond took to the woods, but he maintained a considerable following for some time. By June 1583, when Ormonde offered a price for his head, he was fleeing with only four followers. Five months later, on 11 November 1583, he was murdered by Moriarty of Castledrum, at Glenagenty, five miles east of Tralee at Bóthar an Iarla.[1][2] The Moriarty Chieftain was given a substantial reward by Queen Elizabeth.

Desmond's brother, Sir John of Desmond had been killed in December 1581, and the seneschal of Imokilly had surrendered on 14 June 1583. This seneschal's lands excited envy; he was arrested in 1587, and died in Dublin Castle two days later.


By his second marriage to Eleanor Butler, daughter of the 1st Baron Dunboyne the 15th Earl left two sons, the elder of whom, James Fitzgerald, (1570–1601), spent most of his life in prison. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1600–1601 to recover his inheritance he returned to England, where he died, the title becoming extinct.

The 15th Earl had at least four daughters:



  1. Rowan, A. B. (1872). "The Last Geraldyn Chief of Tralee Castle". In Hickson, Mary Agnes (ed.). Selections from Old Kerry Records; Historical and Genealogical. London: Watson & Hazell. pp. 117–130. Retrieved 25 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    Originally published Kerry Magazine. May 1854. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Desmond, Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • R. Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors (1885–1890)
  • J. O'Donovan (editor), Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters (1851).
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
James FitzGerald
Earl of Desmond
1st creation